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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.

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A Plea for Ballistic Helmets

Is it time for head and face armor on patrol?

February 07, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

For some time now, Stan Cohen, editor of The Pennsylvania Police Criminal Law Bulletin (PPCLB), has been lobbying to get ballistic helmets issued to LEOs across this country. He does this on his own time and of his own initiative. That he does so tirelessly is even more remarkable.

I am excerpting some of his thoughts as they reflect both the mindset behind his efforts as well as those that should be embraced by cops throughout America.

Police Officer John Trettin, 29, Philadelphia Police Dept., 2/29/1976. Officer Trettin was investigating a report of shots being fired when a suspect shot him in the head from a roof in a housing project. He was not wearing a ballistic face shield/helmet, which may have saved his life. He lost 46 years of life, and could have lived to 2022, and would be 62 years old today, probably with grandchildren. He would still have about 13 more years to live. He left three young children. They have been without their father for thirty-eight years today. Thirty-eight years of not feeling his hugs and kisses and playing together and having fun.

Why? He was doing his duty protecting citizens. His children are citizens and he has a duty to protect them from being without a father for thirty-eight years by wearing a ballistic face shield/helmet in high risk situations like walking in an area where shots had been reported being recently fired. Other officers today are in a similar situation to Officer Trettin.

Some officers object to wearing ballistic face shields/helmets in high risk situations.

I submitted the following statement to several police officers and asked them if they thought it would be appropriate to say to police officers and help to motivate them to wear ballistic face shields in high risk situations.

One of these officers answered me as follows:

"Hello, Stan, unless there is a department policy, wearing face shields is much like wearing body armor or seat belts in that officers have to be internally motivated, and I think their children’s reactions would provide a significant level of internal motivation."

My statement is this: Police officers who object to wearing ballistic face shields/helmets in high risk shooting situations should have a face-to-face discussion with their children and ask their children, "What if daddy or mommy would get killed at work and not ever come home again and not ever hug and kiss you or play with you, how would you feel?”

I think most children would begin to cry upon hearing this. The officer should see and feel their hurt. They cry at his/her funeral too, but the officer does not see this. He/she should constantly keep this "child-painful-hurt" in mind while on patrol and when thinking about doing the job.

Seeing this would be an incentive for the officer to want to put a ballistic face shield/helmet on before or during involvement in a high-risk shooting incident so he/she will not be killed and cause his/her children that "child-painful-hurt" he experienced during his/her discussion with his/her child.

The ballistic face shield/helmet should be as close to the officer in the cruiser as his/her protective body armor because there is no time to get it out of the trunk. Some officers are shot in the head sitting in their cruisers or exiting the cruisers or shortly after existing the cruisers. Again, think of the tears on your child's face.

Here is a true life story. On my Bullet One list I have Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz listed as the 869th officer shot in the head. Please read what his eight-year-old daughter said about him after he was shot in the head and killed: “I want my daddy back. I want to kiss him.”

K9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, 39, St. Petersburg PD, Florida, 1/24/11, while serving a warrant on suspect wanted for aggravated battery, he went to the attic where the suspect’s wife said he was and possibly armed. Officer Yaslowitz, knowing the suspect was possibly armed and without wearing a ballistic face shield and helmet, climbed up through a hole in the dark attic, exposing his head first, then he climbed all the way in. As he was putting handcuffs on the suspect, the suspect shot Officer Yaslowitz in the head twice. He probably died instantly. Just before shooting the officer, the suspect told the officers that they had him, and then he shot the officer in the head twice.

Recall his daughter's words. How can anyone not cry after hearing children talk like this about their fathers? In my opinion, Officer Yaslowitz, would probably be alive today and with his family had he had a ballistic face shield and helmet on because they would have stopped the bullets that hit him in the head, allowing him and his partner, also in the attic, to return fire on the suspect.

All police officers who respond to this kind of incident should have ballistic face shields and helmets stowed in their cruisers for instant access. They should place them on their heads before leaving their cruisers (officers have been shot in the head leaving their cruisers) and before confronting suspects. When a suspect starts shooting, the officer does not have time to go back to the cruiser for the face shield and helmet.

If officers train while wearing the helmet and face shield at the target range or at home, the weight should be less noticeable in a combat situation.

And in a combat situation with adrenaline running high, this too should make the weight less noticeable to the officer and not alter his shooting ability.

To be candid, I am not entirely sure of the accuracy of the Florida incident as it relates to the details. But the import of Stan’s message trumps the reconciling of such concerns as researching the matter would only delay sharing the underlying wisdom of Stan's words that is otherwise unimpeachable. And while I would not recommend that you actually have that chat with your kids, I would hope that you could envision it and prioritize accordingly.

Because if you are incapable of recognizing the wisdom of wearing such gear should it be availed you, then perhaps you should have that conversation.

In which case, shame on you.

If you'd like to reach out to Stan or get on his BulletOne mailing list, e-mail him at [email protected].

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